Born in 1936 in Hampshire, England, Simon Gray was a prolific playwright whose later years saw him acclaimed for The Smoking Diaries, a series of insightful, often irreverent memoirs in which he delves deep into the human experience, tackling themes of ageing, vulnerability, and life’s quirks with biting wit and insight. He wrote the following diary entry in the early hours of 21st October 2001, as he was stepping into his sixty-sixth year. He died seven years later.
The Diary Entry
21st October 2001
So here I am, two hours into my sixty-sixth year. From tomorrow on I’m entitled to various benefits, or so I gather—a state pension of so many pounds a week, free travel on public transport, reduced fees on the railways. I assume I’m also entitled to subsidiary benefits—a respectful attention when I speak, unfailing assistance when I stumble or lurch, an absence of registration when I do the things I’ve been doing more and more frequently recently, but have struggled to keep under wraps—belching, farting, dribbling, wheezing. I can do all these things openly and publicly now, in a spirit of mutual acceptance. Thus am I, at sixty-five and a day. Thus he is, at sixty-five and a day, a farter, a belcher, a dribbler and a what else did I say I did, farting, belching, dribbling, oh yes, wheezing. But then as I smoke something like sixty-five cigarettes a day people are likely to continue with their inevitable ‘Well, if you insist on getting through three packets, etc.’ to which I will reply, as always—actually, I can’t remember what I always reply, and how could I, when I don’t believe anyone, even my doctors, ever says anything like, ‘Well, if you will insist, etc.’ In fact, I’m merely reporting a conversation I have with myself, quite often, when I find myself wheezing my way not only up but down the stairs, and when I recover from dizzy spells after pulling on my socks, tying up my shoelaces, two very distinct acts. No, four distinct acts, very each separated by an interval longer than the acts themselves.
Naturally, like most people of sixty-five and a day I only grasp my age, the astonishing number of years I’ve completed, by these physical symptoms—within, the child, about eight years old, rages away—I wish it were all reversed, that I had the appetites, physical stamina, and desirability of a healthy eight-year-old, and the inner life of a man of sixty-five and a day as I imagine it to be from the point of view of an eight-year-old—calm, beneficent, worldly-wise and brimming with tolerance, not to mention forgiveness, yes, I need to be in touch with my inner adult, is the truth of the matter, who has always been lost to me except as an idea. But the truth that I’m nastier than I used to be back when—back when I was sixty-four, for instance, when I was nastier than I was at sixty-two and so forth, back and back, always the less nasty the further back, until I get to the age when I was pre-nasty, at least consciously, when the only shame I knew was the shame of being found out which was when I was, well, about eight, I suppose.
Multiple volumes of Simon Gray’s diaries have been published over the years:
- The Smoking Diaries, published in 2001
- The Year of the Jouncer, published in 2005
- The Last Cigarette, published in 2008
- Coda, published in 2008
- The Early Diaries, published in 2010
- The Complete Smoking Diaries, published in 2013
More info and audio recordings of Gray reading from some of his books can be found on the Simon Gray website. I haven’t read them all, but those I’ve managed have been incredibly entertaining.